The big news this month is the launch of the Carbon Business Council, which aims to give 40 carbon removal companies a seat at the policy table.
Demystifying Carbon Dioxide Removal July Roundup
The big news this month is the launch of the Carbon Business Council, which aims to give 40 odd early-stage carbon removal companies a seat at the policy table. We take a look at what the council aims to achieve and other initiatives that are trying to promote innovation through collaboration.
We also scrutinise the stream of new CDR industry announcements - not all of which are accurate or welcome. And lastly, a new study has quantified the limited potential of nature restoration in keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C, so we check out the potential of new technological options for carbon removal that are under trial, including carbon negative beaches, concrete and trains.
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With the carbon removal industry evolving so rapidly, policymakers have a hard time keeping up. Helping to bridge this gap, 42 carbon removal startups came together last week to launch the Carbon Business Council - a nonprofit that aims to “create a seat at the policy table for early-stage companies focused on restoring the climate,” according to executive director Ben Rubin. The council will encourage policymakers to support the full diversity of methods for removing carbon from the atmosphere, most of which are still in early stage development. It has also released an “ethical oath” for growing the carbon management industry in a responsible way.
Moving to Europe, the European Commission has launched a call for applications for a carbon removal expert group to assist in the preparation of key policy initiatives and legislative proposals on the voluntary certification of carbon removals. Meanwhile in the UK, the government has announced the projects receiving GBP 54.4 million of funding as part of its greenhouse gas removal technologies competition. The awardees include researchers developing DAC technology for use alongside the controversial, recently-approved nuclear power plant Sizewell C, methane capture from farming and removal of carbon from seawater. However, they also include projects aiming to produce hydrogen or fuel where not all captured carbon will be stored.
Climeworks has also signed one of its biggest deals with Microsoft for removing 10,000 tonnes of CO2 over ten years. This contributes to Microsoft’s plans to remove all the carbon it has emitted since launching in 1975 by 2050, but not by much - the company’s emissions actually rose by 21% last year.
“A ringing endorsement from the fossil fuel industry has unsurprisingly set off alarm bells”
More controversially, Drax shared its plans to build the world’s largest carbon capture and storage project. This included a bold claim from the group CEO that the bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) project will “permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year” while generating renewable power. But, as environmental groups have insisted, the maths behind BECCS doesn’t add up - the harvesting, processing, transporting and burning of woody biomass does not result in negative carbon emissions.
Talking of not adding up, Exxon CEO Darren Woods has stated that emerging technologies for DAC are “the holy grail” society needs to address climate change. A ringing endorsement from the fossil fuel industry has unsurprisingly set off alarm bells, with a new Friends of the Earth report exploring how the industry is seeking to use the voluntary carbon market to continue business as usual.
‘Carbon negative’ beaches, concrete and trains
Just in case you had any doubt - a new study has confirmed carbon removals from nature restoration are no substitute for steep emission reductions. A study of the space and time it takes to use natural restoration as a mitigation measure shows that it would, at best, cumulatively remove 103 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2020 and 2100. This would lower end-of-century temperatures by approximately 0.1°C. This means, with current policy projections, we would still be facing a harsh 2.9°C temperature rise in 2100. The limitation of natural solutions for permanent carbon storage is echoed in recent events as carbon offset company Land Life unwittingly started a wildfire last week that damaged 14,000 hectares of land. For reference, the company has a goal of planting 10,000 hectares a year. This fire was accidental, but fires all across Europe are occurring more frequently due to climate change, highlighting the need for robust safety measures for managing nature-based solutions.
Another study this month has cast doubt on a different nature based solution - soil carbon sequestration. No-tillage farming has been widely promoted as a principle of universal soil health, but new research finds the approach may actually reduce carbon stored in the short-term, and have minimal to zero effect on carbon storage in the long-term, compared to conventional farming practices.
Another interesting approach under trial is scaling up cultivation of an algae species called coccolithophores to develop concrete. Scientist Will Srubar explains that the process is the same as the current method of cement production, but “switches the source of limestone from scooping it out of the ground to growing it using algae”. This switch could prevent two billion tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, according to Srubar, assuming urban construction growth at current rates.
A study: Analysis of more than 30,000 species in a CDR-reliant overshoot scenario suggests climate risk to biodiversity from temperature overshoot will arrive suddenly, but decrease only gradually - lagging behind the temperature decline.
A report:Carbon Plan has conducted analysis and interviews to understand the barriers to scaling the CDR industry.
An industry snapshot:Researchers have mapped carbon removal certification and standards in 2021-2022.
A research paper:Modelling future climate change projections often stops at the end of the century. One study has gone further and analysed the long-term effects of carbon removal to 2300.
An overview:The Clean Air Task Force has put together a neat overview of where policy on DAC stands today.
An article:An MIT Review piece on the need for CDR.
Each month the demystifying carbon dioxide removal newsletter digs into the world of CDR to bring you the latest stories on everything from carbon credits and net-zero plans to nature-based solutions (NbS) and new technologies.